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Subject: First impression of TKR (Wei, Shu & Wu - who?) rss

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Three Kingdoms Redux: Some could say this is a game about learning chinese names. Others could argue it is about determining a surprising winner in the end. But all in all it comes down to some clever action selection and bidding mechanism. So is this game fun, even if you don't major in chinese history?

First of all, this is my first review and I have played Three Kingdoms Redux one time. So while I cannot analyze all the mechanics in the game thoroughly, I can answer the question if will come to the table ever again.

There is war in china 200 years AD. Or better at your table. You are penned in with (exactly!) two other people in the tight limits of your room. They are not your friends, they are your enemies lurking at your borders, plotting for alliances and training their armies. But this is not a wargame. You are the head of the state of Wu, Shu and Wei and do not participate in battles. Instead you delegate your generals to hold your state together. You know your generals and their skills well and deploy them on military and civil missions.

I mentioned TKR being an action selection game. But it is even better than that. Most of the time you will BID with your generals for actions and only the most skilled faction will succeed. And this is marvelous – because like in games like Caverna, T’zolkin or Le Havre there is tension on the board: Will he pick my much needed action before I can? But because of the bidding you don’t have to swallow your fate. Instead you are able to react to your opponents, to poker, to reinforce your strength or tease the other one to invest more resources. Additionally the three states start asymmetrically. Wei starts with four, Wu with three and Shu with only two generals. It’s possible that Shu is crushed in the beginning, but than a clever alliance systems comes into play. Both players that lost the most bids are forming a fragile alliance on one action space next round and are able to bid together. Eventually Shu will gain momentum, recruit more generals than the rest and dominate the endgame.

TKR is a HIGHLY competitive and interactive euro game. The winner is determined by a endgame score. But you don’t earn points in peace on your side of the board. Nearly all scoring categories are evaluated in comparison, forcing you to not gain many points, but simply MORE than your opponent, while managing your losses in others. The game is based on three interwoven pillars: Firstly you gather and trade resources, upgrade your granaries and treasuries, build technologies and military gear. Secondly you maintain relations with your tribes and conquer the diplomatic stage. And thirdly of course you muster and train armies and send them to battles.

Oh yes the battles. As everything in TKR they are highly abstract. Each player shares a border with both of the other players. And each border offers five locations to seize. To conquer an area you have to bid for it with a general including a geared army. Sounds boring? (did I mention this is no wargame?). You don’t roll dice but follow the flow of the game: evaluating the goals of your enemy and his strength. Comparing it with your possibilities and pushing your luck with a bold bid. It IS tense, analytic and offers enough decisions to be suprising and complex. Especially when new unknown generals are being recruited and lay face down at the supply of your opponents. And the decision get even more interesting because generals and armies stationed at borders generate a steady amout of victory points – BUT the general and therefore your chance to bid with him is lost for the rest of the game. To complicate the matter, armies cost upkeep in form of the two main resources gold and rice only relieved by a functioning infrastructure.

Three times in the game players will draft and select new generals, choosing to supplement their strategies and fostering synergies between the special skills each general has. Together with the technology cards and the asymmetry between Wei, Shu and Wu they offer enormous replayability – and the only source of luck. While this is mitigated with the drafting of generals, technology cards can sometimes be a total waste, if a prerequisite is no longer satisfiable (e.g. occupy at most one border or do not rank higher than xy). Im not totally sure how the balancing in taking technology actions is, which seemed a bit weak and risky, but the overall luck factor of TKR is quite low.

So when does the game end? This can be tense as usual, because besides an eventual end in round 12, the end scoring can be forced by players with achievements like stationing five generals or upgrading all farms and marketplaces. Naturally the opponents will try to delay the finish in order to gain a lead.

So what was Three Kingdoms Redux for us:

A highly abstract euro game. You don’t march your armies or build great cities. You move little tokens to account for upgrades, move tokens to higher diplomatic ranks and gain more cardboard tokens to form armies. But nonetheless the theme is strong – stronger than in most euro games. You identify with your generals and will remember them. You feel the tension at your two borders, the ever shifting imbalance of power, where no one forms durable alliances. And while non of your achievements are being physically threatened, you feel the aggression or direct the aggression yourself.

Highly replayable. Three asymmetric factions and 69 generals with individual skills and strengths combined with technology cards and different roads to victory offer more than enough possibilities to find new synergies and strategies. You make a ton of decisions and the actions and interactions feel highly rewarding.

This is a heavy eurogame. The start of the first game can possibly be intimidating. While the rulebook is not bad, I am not a fan of extensive examples instead of precise definitions, cause they are harder to look up in the midst of a game. Sometimes the wording is a bit inconsistent and some generals could come with additional explanations. Nonetheless most of our open questions were answered. The game comes with three big individual reference sheets for the factions which are useful and were heavily used (additionally there exists a lengthy FAQ like compendium).

The winner is quite unpredictable. Due to the competitive scoring and sheer amount of scoring categories the game will be tense to the end. On the other hand there will be some who miss the direct feedback of your actions and a distinct goal.

The game takes its time. We were trough after five hours, but we are also a group that take time for consideration. I don’t think a session under three hours is realistic. Nonetheless downtime is not the predominant factor in TKR cause of the high interaction and low playercount.

It plays with three players - and three players only. While this will reduce the chance for TKR to be played, this requirement is in the same time the signature of TKR. The three contending factions generate a unique dynamic on the board.

The box is one of the smaller ones and at the same time one of the most heavy ones and comes without insert for maximum room usage. There are a lot of tokens that need to be crammed back into the box and I don’t know if there is some elegant storage solution.

TKR needs a lot of space (china is no small country). The board is big and there are a lot of cards and tokens. Add three big reference sheets and you will wish you had a bigger gaming table.

The is material appealing and good quality. TKR features colorful artwork on each general card and a tidied up board with nice illustrations. But the sheer amount of white bordered cardboard tokens with similar shapes can be confusing and especially trained and untrained armies are not easy to distinguish.

We found the theme really refreshing. This applies even more if you are known to chinese history – and chinese names, as they can be an additional organization hurdle for someone not used to them.

There is a certain amount of administration needed to keep track of your skills, synergies and technologies at different phases of the game (not to mention these of the other players).

The game is the first work of two indie designers from china Singapore. Therefore it’s unlikely that you find TKR at your next boardgame store and TKR + shipping won’t be your next bargain. But to emphasize this: The game is fun and excellent designed and in my experience Starting Player strives to offer you a fair deal. And I don’t want to conceal I had some great contact with the designers over geekmail.


All in all - even while I found something to nitpick - we had great fun and will play it again!

€: Corrected typos, located Starting Players to Singapore and added one paragraph.
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Kin
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Thank you for your review. The game gets even better with replay, so I hope you get a chance to play more than once.

With respective to play time, my generally slow group, regularly completes a TKR game in 2.5 hours.
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Keng Leong Yeo
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小富靠勤,中富靠智,大富靠德。
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Thank you for your time and effort in writing up a review of Three Kingdoms Redux. We really appreciate it!

extraterrestrial wrote:
The game is the first work two indie designers from china.

We would like to point out that we are from Singapore, not China.
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candoo wrote:
With respective to play time, my generally slow group, regularly completes a TKR game in 2.5 hours.

Wow that seems really fast. But I am eager to see how the game evolves in the next sessions.
Yeoster wrote:
We would like to point out that we are from Singapore, not China.

Beg your pardon! whistle I wanted to check this, but it was getting late.
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Neil Helmer
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Excellent review. Don't be intimidated, keep diving back in and you will find it rewarding each and every time. And even if you are not an avid Chinese scholar or historian, pick up a copy of Romance of the Three Kingdoms - there is a reason these characters are still talked about and revered today it s the 'original' Chinese, Game of Thrones, only better, as it is rooted in history

I love this game and its story. And Christina and Yeoster, its creators, who are always quick to respond to questions and comments (and really nice people too!) Oh, and your playtime will speed up after a few plays. Our games run about 2.5 - 3 hrs now.
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We managed to play two additional games. One was rushed by Wei and ended in to the astonishment of Shu and Wu after round six and 1.5 hours playtime. The other session featured the entire 12 rounds and more time for strategic considerations and ended after four hours, which was borderline.

All in all quite fun and while we recognized some tendencies towards analysis paralysis the game has initiated several interesting discussions about ingame strategies - and that speaks for itself thumbsup
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Kin
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My group has played 16 times and not once have we ever gone to the twelfth round.
If you look at the statistics thread, you will see that of the sixty logged games, the vast majority of games finish in either the 8th/9th/10th round.
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